The Partisan Ranger Act

Since the war began, partisan rangers (i.e., guerrillas) had operated throughout the Confederacy, but the Confederate government did not officially consider them to be legitimate military units. According to Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin, “Guerrilla companies are not recognized as part of the military organization of the Confederate States, and cannot be authorized by this department.”

However, the tremendous Federal manpower advantage, along with the deepening Federal thrusts into Confederate territory, prompted the government to look for new ways to encourage military enrollment. Virginia had taken the lead the previous month by approving a law creating at least 10 companies of “rangers and scouts” to operate against Federal occupation forces within the state and “give the greatest annoyance to the enemy.”

The Confederate Congress finally approved the Partisan Ranger Act, which consisted of three provisions:

  1. The president could grant commissions to officers to recruit men for partisan companies, battalions, and regiments; those recruited would be subject to presidential approval;
  2. The partisans would receive the same uniforms and pay as regular soldiers, and they would be granted rations and other allowances in the same allotments as regular soldiers;
  3. The partisans would be compensated by the government for any Federal arms or ammunition that they captured and delivered to the Confederate quartermaster.

Within five months of this law’s passage, the Confederate War Department reported that six partisan regiments, nine battalions, and 24 companies had begun operations in various areas of the Confederacy under Federal occupation, including Virginia and the coastal regions. John H. McNeill and John S. Mosby were among the most prominent of the partisan leaders.

This law did stimulate recruitment as hoped. But it encouraged more men to join the irregular units and not the armies, thus ensuring that the armies would continue to experience dangerous manpower shortages.


  • Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat) (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
  • Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983.


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